Silverstone: An emotional Lewis Hamilton outpaced Sebastian Vettel in a keenly-fought record-breaking qualifying contest on Saturday to claim his fifth consecutive British Grand Prix pole position.
The defending world champion, who trails Vettel by a single point in the drivers’ world championship, increased his record total of career poles to 76 with a dazzling record lap under pressure in the closing seconds.
Hamilton in a Mercedes and Ferrari’s Vettel traded fastest laps until Hamilton clocked 1min 25.892sec in his final lap to outpace Vettel by 0.044sec.
Kimi Raikkonen was third in the second Ferrari and the other Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas fourth, ahead of Max Verstappen and his Red Bull team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
It was Mercedes’ sixth consecutive pole position at Silverstone, but came after a close battle that, which, Hamilton said, was decided by the support of his army of fans.
“These guys are the best,” said Hamilton, pointing to the grandstands. “I gave it everything I could and it was so close between these Ferraris. They pulled something out for Q3!”
Vettel had been complaining about necks problems.
“I had a bit of an issue in practice, but I’m OK now.” he said before reflecting on his battle with Hamilton. “It was very close. I was very happy with my last lap, but I lost a lot of pace on the straight. I am happy with second and it gives us a chance tomorrow.”
Behind the top six, Kevin Magnussen took seventh ahead of his Haas teammate Romain Grosjean with the ever-improving Charles Leclerc taking ninth for Sauber and Esteban Ocon 10th for Force India.
The session began in hot conditions with a track temperature of 51 degrees Celsius (or 124 degrees Fahrenheit) and the air at 26, Vettel following Raikkonen after some intensive physiotherapy to ease his stiff neck.
Almost immediately, another incident caused a red flag interruption when Lance Stroll went into the gravel at Brooklands in his Williams.
This spelt the end of Stroll’s part in the action after just three minutes and he joined Hartley, who could not take part following his big crash in his Toro Rosso in third practice, without a time.
After six minutes, qualifying restarted with Raikkonen going top before Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin took his Williams into the gravel trap at Stowe, from which he managed to recover.
In spite of his neck, Vettel, on softs, went fastest on the opening runs ahead of Hamilton and Bottas, on medium tyres.
Out after Q1 went Carlos Sainz of Renault, complaining of traffic, McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Sirotkin, joining Stroll and Hartley at the back of the provisional grid.
In Q2, lap records tumbled as the leading cars clocked times inside Hamilton’s 1:26.600 last year, Vettel leading the way until Hamilton, on softs, took over again despite a grassy excursion at Becketts.
The five who missed the top-ten shootout were Nico Hulkenberg of Renault, Sergio Perez of Force India, Fernando Alonso of McLaren, Pierre Gasly of Toro Rosso and Marcus Ericsson for Sauber.
The top three teams were out quickly for Q3, Hamilton breaking his record on his first run only for Vettel to beat that by 0.057 seconds in 1:25.936 with Bottas and Raikkonen third and fourth.
It was tense and very tight as they emerged for their final runs, Hamilton asking if there was “anything to gain me a tow?” The reply was simple: “Negative.”
His response was dramatic, another record lap in 1:25.892 and a pole that gives him a perfect chance to claim a record sixth home win and fifth in successive years in Sunday’s race.